What is discipleship?

I have been thinking a lot lately about the above question. Is discipleship more than than just a Bible study or truth search? What are the essential ingredients? How long does it last? Are there seasons of discipleship?

How can we do discipleship in our modern culture of self reliance and self-focused desires? What about a church with hundreds or thousands of members? Can it really do one-on-one discipleship or small groups as Jesus did? Can we really do discipleship in an age where nobody wants to be held accountable and leaders are affraid to say tough words that might cause people to leave and not come back?

Our society focuses more on knowledge and less on the process. We are focused on the ends not the means. We measure success by whether or not something works. Jesus’ only measuring stick was God’s will.

I don’t know if we have the patience today for old fashioned discipleship. We may not be willing to trust or submit to those we are called to follow. Our society rewards rebels and those who do their own thing. Those values are not a high priority for a disciple of Jesus.

Today, we want a discipleship program. We need easy steps and bullet lists so that everything can be quantified and summarized. I think this misses a key ingredient to effective transformation – time. Jesus took time to focus on twelve men. I believe that many leaders in the modern church are not willing to walk through life with people. They already have full plates doing ministry that may not really be discipleship.

Deep, personal discipleship is messy. It is kind of like open-heart surgery. I think we want something less invasive with fewer limitations. This all points to one of the big problems with the Christian discussion today. We focus more on what we want and not God’s desire. We think too much and listen too little. Discipleship should be all about Jesus not any one person or group. Discipleship reveals God to us so that we can strive in His power to live as Jesus did. Humanism has subtly changed the focus of discipleship from Christ to our efforts and achievements.

I think the first key of discipleship is to remember who we are following. And His name is Jesus.

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2 responses to “What is discipleship?

  1. Daniel Susenbach said it best i think. “Discipleship is the process of becoming who you already are in Christ.”
    good stuff.

  2. Very compelling question! I think you’re making a very important point. Discipleship is an interesting and challenging topic. It starts with considering the statement made by Jesus when He said, “If I be lifted up, I will draw all men unto Me.” People will instinctly be drawn toward the reality of the Spirit of God when it genuinely exists (much like the moth to a light in the darkness of night.) You are quite correct in your recognition of the fact that with today’s 7-11 mentality, there are not many who are willing to pay or ‘invest’ the time and energy required to allow themselves to be conformed to the image of Christ. The other challenge I see has to do with those who wish to assume the responsibility of ‘discipling’ others. I’m reminded of Jesus’ statement to the religious leaders of His day that they, as the result of their ‘religious zealousness’, would not enter into the Kingdom and that they were at the same time keeping others from entering in. ‘Toying around’ with another’s salvation experience can be a pretty dangerous thing. Jesus said that it would be better that a ‘millstone’ be placed around our necks and that we be thrown into the sea rather than harm one of His little ones that He came to seek and to save. The ‘Good Book’ tells us that to whom much has been given, much is required. We haven’t the time or space here to delve into the meaning of the admonishment to ‘work out our salvation with fear and trembling’.

    When it comes to our attempts to influence others, I think it’s important to remember that we can not give away anything that we have not yet really experienced ourselves. When it comes to our desire to influence the growth of others, it needs to be all about ‘show and tell’. (Show First!!) What does our life demonstrate? That’s what Jesus did in His earthly ministry. He demonstrated what ‘Good’ looked like and then from that position of genuine influence, He went on then to teach the true meaning/s of the Gospel and what being filled and led by the Spirit of our Father was (and is) really all about.

    What is the Gospel anyway . . . Christ in us – the Hope of Glory. Until I am off the throne and out of the way – until my pride and self is out of the way – there is no room for the Spirit. (Oil and water just won’t mix!) (And you had better not be trying to disciple anyone until that is your own experience!) What most don’t realize or want to hear anything about is the fact that ‘death to self’ is at the core of spiritual growth. The old man must die so the new man can be raised to the newness of Life that Jesus came to provide. We are all ‘under construction’ and we are all being conformed to the image of Christ – He being the first of ‘many’ brethren. (Those of us – that is – who are willing to show up and participate with what the Holy Spirit wants to accomplish in our life.) Paul even said in Philippians 3:13-14, ‘Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.’ Consider Philippians 1:6 as well. I can’t genuinely disciple until I have been discipled by the Holy Spirit – both directly and possibly through another more ‘mature’ spiritually led Christian who may be assigned ‘my case’ by the Lord.

    I had someone ask me what I thought genuine leadership was and I explained that ‘results-oriented’ leadership (especially in the business environment he was referring to) is not only about being consistent in your demonstration of what ‘good’ looks like, but it’s all about finding ways to further increase the ‘real’ return you’re able to receive on what you’re investing in your people – while you’re working together with them on a daily basis to get the job done on behalf of your customer or client. (You must ‘inspire’ daily growth on their part.) I explained that leadership involves discovering new and more effective ways to create even greater opportunities for growth and success on the part of each one of your people, your team as a whole, your company, and also your customers and/or clients. Leadership is all about you being in the driver’s seat when it comes to you ‘being’ and ‘doing’ whatever it takes to insure the success of anyone and everyone who has a vested interest in your organization’s success. There’s a lot more to demonstrating and providing genuine leadership than most people in leadership positions realize. It has more to do with who you are and how you are perceived by others than what you say. I believe that genuine leadership is the same whether it’s being applied in the so-called Christian community, at home or even in the workplace. The secret to experiencing success in any and every area of life is DEATH TO SELF as strange as it might sound. Jesus Himself said that we had to deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow Him if we were to enter into the Kingdom of God and be with Him where He is. (That’s easier said than done but with the Spirit at work in our lives, it is quite doable.) He said “greater love hath no man than this that he would lay down his life for a friend”. He did exactly that for the Father and for us – and we need to – for Him and for others (including our families and employees – and for those He has assigned us to ‘disciple’ – and then not only will we be considered true servants but we will be fulfilling the greatest of the two commandments – to love God and to love others. You are ‘right’ in your perspective and you have posed an important and timely question (and challenge). When it comes to discipleship – the minute pride and self aggrandizement creeps in, you’re doing more harm than good – that’s when you need to ‘exit stage left’!

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